A SMASH and grab victory saw Dons climb back into the League One play-off places with a 1-0 win over Hartlepool.
Dan Powell’s goal on the stroke of half time was enough to hand Dons all three points in a game that lacked many chances, and was described as ‘dour’ by Dons boss Karl Robinson afterwards.
The manager heaped praise on his back four, after a couple of games in which he felt the defence cost his side valuable points in their race for the top six.
He said: “That was a proper win. It was a pretty dour game - there wasn’t a great deal of football played by either side.
“We didn’t create anything, our wide men didn’t give us enough, and we did not retain the ball well enough. But if you want to be successful, you have got to come to places like this and grind results out.
“But I’m made up to come away from here with three points. I thought the back four were tremendous. I was very critical of them last Tuesday (after the Leyton Orient defeat) and we had a good chat, but I hope this can be the end of us conceding silly goals.
“Gary Mackenzie came in, showed how much quality he has got, and was playing with a knock - and with Sean O’Hanlon who is still not fully fit. They are all knackered and gave everything they have.”
Rowan Vine made his third start in a Dons shirt as the only fit striker among the ranks, but spent most of the game chasing long balls, before being replaced by first Powell, and then substitute Jude Stirling in the latter part of the game as Dons looked to clear their lines from a late Pools onslaught.
But Robinson admitted that his lack of options up front has forced him to look for other ways of scoring goals.
“We’ve got Sam Baldock, Angelo Balanta, and Jabo Ibehre who is ill - so I have three strikers that didn’t even travel,” he said.
“We have worked hard at looking for other avenues, because other clubs in this division have been spending big, and we can’t.”
The result has lifted Dons into sixth place in League One, and the team are now unbeaten in six away from home - a stark contrast from earlier in the season.
However, more worryingly for Robinson is the home form - Dons are without a win in three at stadium:mk, but will need to put that right in time for Tuesday’s clash against fellow play-off rivals Oldham Athletic - who made way for Dons in the top six on Saturday.
Robinson said: “We need to get a bit of parallel with the home and away form. We’ve flipped the coin a bit, but if we keep playing like we did against Leyton Orient last week at home, we’ll gain more wins.
“And if we put in the determination like we did against Hartlepool, and like we did against Sheffield Wednesday, you will get wins on the road.”
And goal scorer Powell echoed his manager’s sentiment about their reverse in fortunes, but feels that Dons are ideally placed to make a run for the play-offs as the season nears its peak.
He said: “It’s good to have the points on the board rather than the games in hand. People always think that if you’ve got the games in hand, you’ll win them, but you never know - so I’d rather have the points and shoot up the league.”
His vital winner on the stroke of half time handed Dons all three points at Victoria Park, but Powell revealed that keeper Scott Flinders could have been given his marching orders had the youngster gone down under his heavy challenge as he rounded him to put the ball in the net.
He said: “If I hadn’t scored, I was going to get a lot of stick from the boys for not going down!
“The referee said he probably would have shown him a red card, but luckily, from the tight angle, it hit the inside of the post. I didn’t even see the goal, so it’s lucky that it went in!
“The pitch wasn’t good, we had to dig in and graft. But we will come back on Tuesday at home, hopefully get the win and shoot up the table.
“It’s been a good day. We now just want to get back out there on Tuesday, and get the three points - so it makes this win even more vital.”
Powell’s winner, his fifth goal for Dons this season, comes after being recalled him his loan spell at Blue Square Premier side Darlington, and the 19-year-old is delighted to be back in Milton Keynes and playing regularly.
“It’s been great to come back,” he said. “The manager wanted me back here, and we’ve worked hard together.
“I’ve been able to get in the side, score a few goals - and a few match winners - and win us some points.”
Oldham are next up at stadium:mk and will be out to bounce back from a surprise defeat to Bristol Rovers. A win on Tuesday would see the Latics leapfrog back above Dons into sixth.